Device drivers and companion keyboard software are important concepts when it comes to purchasing mechanical keyboards. They help the users get the most out of their keyboards by offering functionalities such as key remapping and RGB control. They are also pretty much required for custom keyboards since they are the only tools that can allow custom layouts to work.
Keyboard software is an important feature of gaming and mechanical keyboards. They allow the user to do various tasks such as change the settings in their keyboards. When purchasing a new keyboard, consumers must consider what kind of software their keyboards are compatible with or if their keyboards come with any software at all.
If you are not too tech-savvy and find yourself being confused with the various software needed for keyboards, then you have come to the right place. In this article, we will be diving more into the technical aspect of mechanical keyboards.
We will be discussing what drivers are and how different they are from most mechanical keyboard software. We will also discuss what “driverless keyboards” are and whether or not they are good. Stick around to learn more about keyboard drivers.
Device Drivers vs. Keyboard Software
Before we begin, let us quickly differentiate what device drivers and keyboard software are. Most brands often refer to their companion software as the driver of their keyboards. However, this is incorrect since keyboards can work without the software but they cannot function without the proper drivers.
Let us kick things off by defining device drivers. A device driver allows peripherals, such as keyboards and mice, to establish communication with computers. Drivers are a built-in feature of most modern operating systems, meaning the establishment of the link between peripherals and computers is seamless. Without the proper device driver, keyboards will not function correctly.
Keyboard software, on the other hand, is programs that are specifically made for certain keyboards. Their primary function is to add additional features to the keyboard. These include lighting control, key remapping, macro assignment, and many more.
Just like drivers, most keyboard software is proprietary for specific devices. Razer devices, for instance, will only work with Razer Synapse. Likewise, Logitech devices will only work with the Logitech G-Hub.
Do I Need to Download Device Drivers?
For most modern keyboards and mice, the user does not need to manually download their respective device drivers. The drivers are automatically detected when the device is plugged into the computer. Downloading the latest version of the keyboard software also ensures that the keyboard drivers are always up to date.
Do I Need To Download Keyboard Software?
Downloading the proper software provided by the manufacturer is highly recommended to get the most out of your keyboard. However, it isn’t required. In fact, some users in the community prefer to not install the software.
Some of the reasons why consumers opt to not install the software are because they do not want to have software running in the background consuming resources. This is especially true for those who are using peripherals with different brands.
For consumers who are unsure if they should install the software, we highly recommend trying out the software at least once to see what additional benefits they can gain. Once you have decided that you do not need the software, you can simply uninstall it.
Software for Custom Keyboards
Now that we have gone through the differences between drivers and keyboard software, let us now talk about the different programs used for custom mechanical keyboards. The two most commonly used apps include QMK and VIA.
QMK is one of the most widely used programs for configuring mechanical keyboards. It was developed by Quantum Mechanical Keyboard, which is an open-source community. QMK is widely supported by different keyboards and was the default software for custom keyboards for a very long time.
This software isn’t very complicated. However, it is also not as simple as the ones used by mainstream mechanical keyboards from the likes of Razer and Logitech G. To use this program, users have to flash their new settings to their keyboards every time they make changes.
Despite the flexibility that QMK provides, its non-beginner-friendly nature has left plenty to be desired. This led to the creation of other QMK based firmware such as VIA.
VIA is a program based on QMK. It has very similar functionality but has a more user-friendly UI that allows changes in key bindings to be reflected immediately. Together with QMK, it is the default configuration method for today’s modern mechanical keyboards.
Aside from key mapping, VIA also has a convenient switch tester. This is incredibly useful for testing PCBs before assembly to make sure that they are fully working. They can also be used during the built process to make sure that each key was soldered correctly or inserter correctly in hot-swap mechanical keyboards.
Software for Gaming Keyboards
As we have mentioned earlier, most gaming keyboards feature software for configuring various settings of the keyboard. Some of the most popular ones include Razer Synapse, Logitech G Hub, Glorious Core, and Steelseries Engine.
Unlike QMK and VIA, these programs are proprietary to their respective brands. This means that if you own a Razer keyboard but dislike Razer synapse, then you are pretty much stuck. In addition, these mainstream keyboards are not usually compatible with VIA and QMK.
However, this may change in the coming months since brands are starting to enter the world of custom mechanical keyboards. The Glorious GMMK Pro, for instance, is compatible with QMK with VIA support inbound in the coming months.
In addition, these programs are typically not open source. This means that their functionality is usually not as in-depth as QMK or VIA. Most allow basic functionality and focus on consumer features such as RGB effects.
Do All Keyboards Have Software?
All keyboards that connect via a USB interface have device drivers. However, not all modern mechanical keyboards feature dedicated software. These keyboards are typically called driverless keyboards.
Of course, as we have mentioned earlier, these keyboards still have a driver. However, what they lack is software that allows the user to control RGB and remap keys. Configuration is instead, done within the keyboard.
These kinds of keyboards have risen in popularity during recent years since they provide a far cleaner user experience. They eliminate the need for a program to be constantly running in the background which risks slight performance loss and privacy concerns.
One of the most popular brands that have this approach is Ducky. They are able to integrate tons of features into their keyboards despite lacking fine user control.
The KBE team is dedicated to sharing our knowledge and creating useful resources about computer keyboards. This article was written as a team collaboration, combining our knowledge and years of experience using, building and modding keyboards. Meet the team here.